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A Deep Dive on Magnesium

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Magnesium: What is it?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in the human body (1,2). It is involved in enzyme activation, energy production, muscle function, nervous system support, bone health, blood pressure regulation, and electrolyte balance (1,2). From facilitating chemical reactions to supporting proper muscle, metabolic, and nerve function, magnesium is crucial for many bodily processes (1,2,3).

Magnesium is readily found in many dietary sources such as:

  • Leafy greens
  • Seeds
  • Raw Cacao (unheated cocoa powder, raw)
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains

Magnesium Deficiency

The magnesium content in food sources may be decreasing due to food processing. Also, individuals consuming a diet of mostly processed foods may not meet recommended dietary intake levels (2,3). Deficiency may be increasing in Western
countries due to low intake of magnesium-containing food sources (2).

In IBD specifically, we may have a higher risk of being low through the IBD disease process (increased demand), certain medications that lower magnesium, our tendency towards lower intake and even prolonged stress.

Magnesium deficiency may be caused by:

  • Very low dietary intake (common in IBD)
  • Some medications (diuretics, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, proton pump inhibitors)
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) losses (e.g., in IBD and celiac disease)
  • Renal losses (e.g., in type 2 diabetes (T2DM), insulin resistance, chronic kidney disease)
  • Frequent alcohol use
  • Periods of prolonged stress

Chronic magnesium deficiency is associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, stroke, altered lipid metabolism, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, and neuropsychiatric disorders (1,2,3). It may also contribute to the interactions between inflammation, oxidative stress, and aging processes (1,2,3).

How do we know if Magnesium is low?

Magnesium status can be challenging to test through standard lab work due to it’s distribution within the body. Most magnesium is found inside cells or in bones rather than in the blood (1). This means even if your doctor is running magnesium labs – it’s not the best assessment of magnesium.

In our practice, we rely on a nutrition physical exams and looking at someone’s risk factor for being low.

Examples of nutrition clinical assessment markers are- loss of appetite, lethargy, nausea, tremor, frequent headaches, trouble sleeping, restless leg, cramping and constipation. These are just some of the things we might look at that could point us to low magnesium.

It’s important to note that some nutrients overlap in presentation. For example, restless leg can also show up in iron deficiency anemia. As a practitioner, it’s always important for us to look at the whole picture before jumping to conclusions. Usually if someone has fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and restless leg AND IBD – if iron hasn’t been checked in the last 3 months – that’s usually the first place I look since iron can so easily get low with active inflammation. This is where it would be important to work 1:1 with an IBD focused dietitian to sort out how to best support you. If you’d like to chat about working with us- reach out HERE.

If you found this helpful- stay tuned for Part II: Supplementing Magnesium – what to know


  1. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021). Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium. NIH
    Office of Dietary Supplements.
  1. Gröber U, Schmidt J, Kisters K. Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients. 2015
    Sep 23;7(9):8199-226. doi: 10.3390/nu7095388. PMID: 26404370; PMCID:
  2. Guerrera MP, Volpe SL, Mao JJ. Therapeutic uses of magnesium. Am Fam Physician.
    2009 Jul 15;80(2):157-62. PMID: 19621856.
  3. Institute of Medicine. 2006. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient
    Requirements. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.